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An employer’s view of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Employers discuss the complexity of CJRS and the longer term impact on hospitality

On March 23rd hospitality employers were left in a precarious position; trading ceased with the resulting loss of income, but employees still had to be paid. We asked employers and recruiters how the past weeks have been and about the impact of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme lifeline (CJRS).

Retaining our team was paramount

Mike Gardner is Managing Director at Appetite 4 Work, a recruitment consultancy offering work for chefs, students and anyone looking for fun, flexible work.

We asked Mike about the impact of furlough on his teams, clients and candidates?

“During a very challenging time, when there was little or no money coming in, we have been able to retain our team.  From a business point of view the CJRS furlough scheme has been great.  My team are grateful to have an income but are frustrated they can’t get stuck in and help get the business back on track, as one of the conditions of furlough is that they must not work for us.

When you are dealing with casual and temp staff it’s pretty time consuming to work out what everyone should receive.  The CJRS portal is very unforgiving – once you make a claim in any given period that’s it, so you need to make sure you get it right first time.  I think cash flow is key. It’s been over a month when you take into account the time it took the portal to get up and running – totally understandable given the unique situation but a challenge none the less.“

“The CJRS has definitely saved jobs”

Mike continued, “Without a doubt CJRS has definitely helped our clients to save a lot of jobs and enabled them to retain their teams.

We were able to pay our regular temps and it has had a massive impact.  Some were really desperate, wondering what they were going to do financially.  We’ve received some amazing messages from them.  The CJRS has not been straightforward to do but was the right decision, both morally and to retain loyalty down the line.”

Facing the furlough challenges

We spoke to Felicity Barnes, Head of People & Culture at Fooditude about her experience and the challenges of the furlough process.

“Hospitality is a people industry; you work with and for people. We’re very lucky that we have a team that wants to help, support and be involved in any way possible.  One of the real challenges for them with furlough is being at home with not much to do and not being able to do anything for the business.”

“A saving grace of furlough is that voluntary work can still be undertaken. Our usual business operations have stopped but we have taken the opportunity to support our community. We have a small team of volunteers from our workforce creating free meals and delivering them for the vulnerable and those who need them most in our community. Felicity continued, “This voluntary work has helped keep our team focused during this difficult time. The project is being funded through donations on our Go Fund Me page.”

How will hospitality be supported after lockdown?

Abi Dunn founded northern hospitality recruitment specialists Sixty Eight People 14 months ago. We asked Abi what were the key questions employees, clients and candidates had about the furlough process?

“I had to ‘lay-off’ my team before CRJS was in place – so it was an amazing feeling to be able to offer them the furlough lifeline. It meant I could keep the business going in some format and offered them hope that we had a future.”

“Everyone has the benefit of time on their hands so can research the scheme themselves at gov.uk. I have had conversations with other business owners about what dates the claims can be made from. But from an employee perspective – its straightforward – 80% of their basic salary.”

Ongoing support for hospitality

Abi continued, “The main concern now is how long the hospitality sector will be supported. The sector was the first to be decimated by COVID-19 and will be the last to recover. Hospitality needs more support than other sectors.”

Causes for concern

Finally, we asked all Mike, Felicity and Abi if there were any elements of the CJRS that are particularly unclear or causing debate across their businesses?

Mike: “I think one thing the scheme has thrown up is the varying ways people are paid across the hospitality industry.  Staff on tronc systems have really lost out. Chefs who have operated as limited company contractors and self-employed have seen why being PAYE is actually a really good thing.”

Abi: “One of the greatest frustrations from a personal perspective is that directors of small businesses do seem to slip through the net. We are unable to claim 80% of our monthly income which certainly leaves me being poorly supported by the government scheme. I know groups are petitioning for a change to get directors of limited companies into the same ‘calculation’ as the self-employed.”

And finally, Felicity: “One real concern we do have is the ending of furlough. To properly support businesses, there needs to be a phased return by the industry, maintained until October.

In summary, the extension of CJRS until October 2020 is welcome news for hospitality.  Employers can keep employees on the payroll thanks to financial support, employees have the security of knowing that the scheme has been extended.

The extension also means that employers and businesses now have time to come to terms with what business might look like using social distancing.  This is time to innovate, learn and develop new ways of working and to prepare hospitality people for the gradual easing of restrictions so that hospitality comes back stronger than ever.

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